Thursday 5 February 2015

Thursday, February 05, 2015 Posted by Hari No comments Labels:
Posted by Hari on Thursday, February 05, 2015 with No comments | Labels:

Sports Direct faces multimillion-pound claim from zero-hours contract workers 
Nearly 300 workers were excluded from the retailer’s generous bonus scheme because they were on zero-hours contracts. The bonus scheme paid out about £160m worth of shares to 2,000 “permanent” workers in 2013. Lawyers acting for the part-time staff sent letters to Sports Direct’s legal team on Friday claiming a total of just over £1m in compensation for missed bonuses for a first batch of 30 workers. The individual claims average about £36,000 each but the highest is worth more than £100,000. All of the first 30 seeking compensation, with help from the legal firm Leigh Day, have a minimum of five and a half years in continuous employment with Sports Direct, including the period covered by the bonus. Some of the staff involved, whose claims were gathered in partnership with workers rights group Pay Justice, have worked for the company for considerably longer, despite being employed on insecure contracts. Letters relating to the remaining 268 workers will be gradually filed over the next six months or so. Some of the workers making claims for the missed bonuses still work for Sports Direct, and Leigh Day has called on the company to confirm they will not be penalised or dismissed for making the claims. The law firm says that to do so would be unlawful under regulations that protect part-time workers. Sports Direct, which is controlled by the billionaire Newcastle United football club owner Mike Ashley, has been widely criticised for employing nearly 90% of its staff on zero-hours contracts. GUARDIAN

Almost one in five shops in England's northern towns and cities are empty, compared with just one in 10 in the south
The Local Data Company (LDC) revealed that the rate of shop vacancies across the country stood at 13.3% at the end of last year, down from a February 2012 peak of 14.6%. The worst regional area is the North East, with a shop vacancy rate of 18.8% in the second half of 2014, a fall of 0.3% on a year ago. The best region is London, with a vacancy rate of 8.7% after a fall of 0.4%. The report also found that 20% of all shops it tracked had been vacant for more than three years, which amounts to almost 10,000 outlets. Local Data Company director Matthew Hopkinson said: "This is the equivalent of five Manchesters lying empty." The top 10 worst town centres for vacant retail and leisure space contain five in the West Midlands, four in the North West and one in the North East. The top three are Burslem in Staffordshire with a vacancy rate of 29.4%, Stoke-on-Trent with a vacancy of 27.7% and Hartlepool, with a vacancy rate of 27.3%. The top 10 best town centres have six in Greater London and the South East. DAILY MAIL

Barack Obama plans to close a tax loophole that allows US firms to avoid paying taxes on overseas profits
His 2016 budget would impose a one-off 14% tax on US profits stashed overseas, as well as a 19% tax on any future profits as they are earned. The $238bn (£158bn) raised would be used to fund road projects in the US. Research firm Audit Analytics calculated last April that US firms in total had $2.1tn-worth of profits stashed abroad. It found US conglomerate General Electric had the most profit stored overseas at $110bn. Tech giants Microsoft and Apple and drugs companies Pfizer and Merck all featured in the top five. No tax is currently due on foreign profits as long as they are not brought into the US. As a result some companies put their earnings in low tax jurisdictions and simply leave them there. Mr Obama told broadcaster NBC that despite several years of economic improvement, wages and incomes for middle class families were "just now ticking up". "They haven't been keeping pace over the last 30 years compared to corporate profits and what's happening to folks in the very top," he said. But analysts say it is unlikely the Republican-controlled Congress will approve the proposals. BBC NEWS

Property developers allowed to reduce affordable housing commitments, worth hundreds of millions of pounds
Housing developers in the UK could gain hundreds of millions of pounds in windfall profits under a new policy that lets them reduce contributions to building affordable housing or even avoid paying altogether, a council has claimed. Since December, the government has exempted anyone who turns an empty building into private housing from paying for further affordable units, even if they could do so and still make healthy profits. Among the first super-rich investors to have benefited from the change are the redevelopers of a luxury Mayfair apartment block in central London bought in 2013 by Abu Dhabi’s investment fund. Planners fear Qatar’s ruling family could be next to gain if their agents seek a multimillion-pound cut in the affordable housing bill on a £3bn redevelopment of Chelsea barracks. John Walker, director of planning at Westminster city council, a Conservative-led borough, has described the government’s new vacant building credit as insane and estimated it could lose as much as £1bn in housing payments, deepening the accommodation crisis afflicting the poorest people. GUARDIAN

Westminster council rejects Qatari royal family’s plans for £200m palace
Blueprints suggest it was intended for the current or former emir and one of his wives. It includes a huge master suite with separate dressing rooms for the sheikh and sheikha, and a special eveningwear wardrobe and private fitting room for the sheikha. Children were to have the whole top floor to themselves – with lift access to a games room, a large pantry for snacks and various lounges. But the council officer said no, citing an issue that matters to millions in the capital: the shortage of homes. He torpedoed the scheme in a dry official memo to the Qataris’ agents, which read: “Your development would lead to the loss of a housing unit which would not meet S14 of Westminster’s City Plan: Strategic Policies adopted November 2013.” He added: “Negotiation could not overcome the reasons for refusal.” GUARDIAN

Lack of competition in energy market costs consumers £2.9bn
New Which? research analysing movements in energy prices has revealed bills could have been slashed further and sooner than the recent round of cuts, costing consumers a massive £2.9 billion over the last year. Using real market data, we analysed the costs to suppliers of buying wholesale energy since 2013 and compared this against what consumers have paid for wholesale costs through energy bills in the same period. We found that the failure of retail prices to align with wholesale costs has cost consumers £2.9bn over the last year, an equivalent of £145 per household on standard energy tariffs. Our analysis suggests standard variable energy tariffs have not kept in line with wholesale prices over the past two years. In particular:
• We can see no justification for the increases to gas and electricity prices in late 2013, based on wholesale costs, which for gas prices alone is estimated to have cost consumers £421million per year.
• The recent cuts in Big Six standard gas tariffs of up to 5.1% should have been greater, in the region of 8.8% to 10.3%, if they were to align with wholesale energy costs -equivalent to a decrease of between £777 million and £907 million per annum to households on standard gas tariffs.
• Our figures show suppliers could reduce electricity prices by up to 10% - a saving of at least £1.6 billion a year to consumers on electricity standard tariffs.
We have submitted our analysis as fresh evidence to the ongoing Competition and Markets Authority’s investigation into the energy market, and to HM Treasury for its more recently announced inquiry. WHICH?

City Watchdog to investigate banks' poor handling of PPI compensation claims
Since January 2011, more than 14 million consumer complaints about the sale of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) have been handled with £17.3billion compensation handed over. The total bill for the scandal could top £24billion. But there has been continued criticism of banks’ delaying tactics and failure to find those affected by by the UK’s biggest-ever financial mis-selling scandal. Last year, the Financial Conduct Authority revealed that banks, credit card providers and personal loan companies had agreed to reassess more than 2.5m complaints during 2012 and 2013, which they may have either "unfairly rejected or paid too little redress to". PPI was designed to cover the payment of loans of those borrowers who lost their job or were unable to work through illness but was often sold to those who would have been ineligible to claim. On top of that many borrowers were not told that their loan repayments included premiums for the expensive insurance. INDEPENDENT

Price comparison website bosses under attack from MPs for not showing customers the best deals
Bosses of the big five price comparison websites were accused of lying, ripping off customers and putting profits first in a heated battle with MPs of the energy and climate change select committee yesterday. The executives at uSwitch, MoneySupermarket, Compare the Market, and Go Compare were hauled in front of the MPs after it was claimed last month that some were 'hiding' the best gas and electricity deals from their customers. Some of the websites were criticised by the energy watchdog Ofgem for not showing the cheapest tariffs by default if it meant they wouldn't earn a commission. All of the comparison services have now amended their websites so that they automatically show the full range of tariffs available, regardless of whether they’ll make a commission. But in the one-off evidence session MPs questioned why it took until the regulator enforced change for the comparison sites to change their ways. MPs also asked the executives to reveal how much commission they receive from energy suppliers for every new customer that they provide. For the first time, each site revealed the figures, which ranged from £22 to £30 per single fuel customer – so up to £60 for a household that switches onto a dual fuel tariff. MPs also questioned whether or not a not-for-profit switching site would work in consumers’ interests. Such a site would not charge commission and any profits would be fed back into improving the service. Such a service is already run for Australian citizens by the Australian government. EDF has also suggested a not-for-profit switching site might work. DAILY MAIL

90% global corporate tax dodge: EU probe widened to Belgium
Belgium is the latest European Union member state to have its tax regime put under the spotlight. The Commission is investigating whether the tax regimes of certain EU nations amounts to state aid. It said Belgium often made tax deals with firms that moved "a substantial part of their business" to the country. Under European Union (EU) state aid rules member states are not allowed to grant companies selective tax advantages that distort competition. But the Commission said that, on the face of it, Belgium's excess profits tax regime did just that. US corporations, including Apple, Starbucks and Amazon have also been caught up in the investigation for what the Commissions calls their "aggressive tax planning" strategies. The Commission said Belgium's tax arrangements meant as much as 90% of the profits a multinational corporation made in the country could be deducted from its corporation tax bill, although more typically, the tax break applied was 50%. The Commission has been investigating the tax regimes of certain member states since June 2013 and widened the investigation to include all member states at the end of last year. Eight months ago the Commission launched formal investigations into the tax paid by Apple in Ireland, Starbucks in the Netherlands and Fiat Finance in Luxembourg. It launched a further investigation into Amazon's tax dealings in Luxembourg in October. BBC NEWS


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